Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

In Parenthesis, Welsh National Opera in London

‘A century after the Somme, who still stands with Britain?’ So read a headline in yesterday’s Evening Standard on the eve of the centenary of the first day of that battle which, 141 days later, would grind to a halt with 1,200,000 British, French, German and Allied soldiers dead or injured.

Die Walküre, Opera North

A day is now a very long time indeed in politics; would that it were otherwise. It certainly is in the Ring, as we move forward a generation to Die Walküre.

Early Gluck arias at the Wigmore Hall

If composers had to be categorised as either conservatives or radicals, Christoph Willibald Gluck would undoubtedly be in the revolutionary camp, lauded for banishing display, artifice and incoherence from opera and restoring simplicity and dramatic naturalness in his ‘reform’ operas.

Das Rheingold, Opera North

Das Rheingold is, of course, the reddest in tooth and claw of all Wagner’s dramas - which is saying something.

Peter Grimes in Princeton

The Princeton Festival presents one opera annually, amidst other events. Its offerings usually alternate annually between 20th century and earlier operas. This year the Festival presented Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, now a classic work, in a very effective and moving production.

Scintillating Strauss in Saint Louis

If you like your Ariadne on Naxos productions as playful as a box of puppies, then Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is the address for you.

Saint Louis Takes On ‘The Scottish Opera’

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis took forty years before attempting Verdi’s Macbeth but judging by the excellence of the current production, it was well worth the wait.

Anatomy Theater: A Most Unusual New Opera

On June 16, 2016, Los Angeles Opera with Beth Morrison Projects presented the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang's Anatomy Theater at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT).

Shalimar in St. Louis: Pagliaccio Non Son

In its compact forty-year history, the ambitious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has just triumphantly presented its twenty-fifth world premiere with Shalimar the Clown.

Jenůfa, ENO

The sharp angles and oddly tilting perspectives of Charles Edwards’ set for David Alden’s production of Jenůfa at ENO suggest a community resting precariously on the security and certainty of its customs, soon to slide from this precipice into social and moral anarchy.

The “Other” Marriage of Figaro in a West Village Townhouse

Last week an audience of 50 assembled in the kitchen of a luxurious West Village townhouse for a performance of Marriage of Figaro.

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Alexey Dolgov as Bacchus and Christine Goerke as Ariadne [Photo by Felix Sanchez courtesy of Houston Grand Opera]
09 May 2011

Houston makes sense — and music — of Ariadne

Ariadne auf Naxos, the next major endeavor of the Richard Strauss/Hugo von Hofmannsthal collaboration after Der Rosenkavalier in 1911, has been a special challenge for American opera companies.

Richard Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos

Richard Strauss Ariadne auf Naxos Prima Donna/Ariadne: Christine Goerke; Tenor/Bacchus: Alexey; Dolgov; Zerbinetta: Laura Claycomb; Composer: Susan Graham; Music Master: John Fanning; Major Domo; Jon Kolbet; Dance Master: Rodell Rosel; Naiad: Kiri Deonarine; Dryad: Catherine; Martin; Echo: Brittany Wheeler; Harlequin: Boris Dyakov; Truffaldino: Robert Gleadow; Brighella: Brendan Tuohy; Scaramuccio: Nathaniel Peake. Conductor: Patrick Summers; Director: John Cox; Set and Costume Director: Robert Perdziola Lighting Director: Duane Schuler; Associate Director: Bruno Ravella; Associate Lighting Director: Michael James Clark; Stage Manager: Christopher Staub. Houston Grand Opera Brown Theater; Wortham Theater Center, April 29, 2011.

Above: Alexey Dolgov as Bacchus and Christine Goerke as Ariadne

All photos by Felix Sanchez courtesy of Houston Grand Opera

 

Much in the work depends on the wit of the Prologue, in which the richest man in Vienna demands that the evening’s performance in his home merge the planned comedy and tragedy in a staging to last not more than one hour. It would otherwise interfere with the fireworks — the heart of the evening, one gathers — that is to follow.

In the age before titles, the Prologue was sometimes performed in English; the opera in the intended German. Titles now bring home the egotism of singers who fight about dressing rooms and the frustrations of the idealistic young composer who sees his work devastated by the striking of a single note. More important, however, is the foreshadowing of the opera in the intense love that the composer comes to feel for coquettish commedia dell’arte Zebinetta, who in her fickleness seems everything that he and Ariadne are not.

Scored for a mere 35 instruments, Ariadne is — despite Wagnerian vocal demands — a chamber work that echoes the Baroque once dominant in Strauss’ native Bavaria. And it was Patrick Summers thorough understanding of these roots that accounted for the unusual radiance of the staging, seen on opening night of the five-performance Houston run.

This was an Ariadne of cultivated gentleness, in which reserve dominated and in the opera accounted for the seamlessness with which tragedy and comedy blended with such ease. Keeping Strauss’ sometimes runaway sensuality in check, Summers concentrated rather on the intimacy of the opera, drawing the audience into a story that in its intricacy identifies von Hofmannsthal as perhaps the greatest librettist in the history of opera. Conductor Summers, HGO music director, is now an established figure in the world’s opera houses, and here he showed again the polish and sophistication that he has brought to the company’s orchestra.

The central figure in the Prologue is the youthful Composer, a trouser role patterned after the Octavian of Rosenkavalier. In this country Susan Graham continues to hold the copyright on these roles. A dashing and exuberant figure, she played the art-and love-smitten composer with fervor and conviction and without exaggerated mannerisms. She clearly remains at the height of her vocal powers.

Christine Goerke, famous for her interpretation of such dark roles as Wagner’s Ortrud and Kundy and Verdi’s Eboli, brought richness to death-obsessed Ariadne in a performance made luminous by Summer’s disciplined approach to the score. The conductor deserves further praise for the transparency with which the nymphs who watch over Ariadne as the opera opens sang.

Over the past decade Texas-born Laura Claycomb has distinguished herself in works from Handel to Mahler and Britten. Without slighting the playful side of the role, she stressed that Zerbinetta — despite appearances — is looking for the one man to whom she might be true.

Bacchus, an unrewarding assignment, would be a supporting role, were he not needed to engineer the transcendence with which the opera ends. Sometimes a role for ageing Wagnerians — James King comes to mind, Alexey Dolgov is perhaps too young to play Bacchus. (The Siberian-born tenor made his HGO debut as Puccini’s Rodolfo in 2008.)

Ariadne_HGO_2011_02.gifJohn Fanning as Music Teacher and Susan Graham as Composer

It is, however, the role itself that is problematic. Bacchus, at best a bit of a bumpkin, stumbles onto Naxos on the heels of heroic exploits, and — until he falls hopelessly in love with the abandoned Ariadne — doesn’t really understand what is going on there. Neither does Ariadne, who sees him as the envoy of Death. Thus the two sing at cross purposes at the outset of the duet that ends the opera. Nonetheless, one felt that Dolgov had been miscast — the single blemish on the otherwise enviously engaging performance. Of course, one knows Strauss’ antipathy for tenors, and Dolgov’s shortfall underscored that this — like Rosenkavalier — is a womens’ opera.

One left the Wortham with heart warmed by Goerke’s deeply internalized delivery of Ein Scho”nes war and “Es gibt ein Reich” and awed by the effortlessness with which Claycomb proved herself an ideal Zerbinetta.

Ariadne_HGO_2011_04.gifBoris Zyakov as Harlequin-and Laura Claycomb as Zerbinetta

Six of the seven youthful singers cast as nymphs and commedia dell’arte clowns were current HGO studio artists, underscoring the high professional standards of that program.

All in all an Ariadne to treasure, the production not only concluded the present HGO season, but further brought down the curtain on Anthony Freud’s all too brief tenure of the company’s general director. (Freud arrived in 2006.) Freud succeeds William Mason at the helm of Chicago Lyric Opera.

Wes Blomster

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):